Saturday, May 10, 2008

Creative, but Ultimately Good Wine Service and Experience at Trendy Restaurant

So, I used to live in the city of Los Angeles, and used to be used to the hub-hub of traffic and constant people everywhere and everything new was around me, and thankfully there were the tranquil Santa Monica mountains and beaches were one could escape fairly easy on the weekend morning for a brisk run in the natural surrounding. So I used to live in this environment where hip restaurants sprang up everywhere, but for the last 3 years I have lived in the more mellow and laid back beach city of Long Beach, where things are quieter, a tad less trendy, but very comfortable indeed.

Last evening, my husband and I ventured into the city to meet a friend and try a trendy restaurant in town of which I had heard considerable good things, Osteria Mozza. The atmosphere of the restaurant is what I would describe as Manhattan Urban (or what I think of Manhattan, a place I have never been), with a brisk and professional service, and a chic sort of clientele. The food is interesting, an intermingling of traditional and contemporary flair. Nothing too modern, no foams or things like that I could see. I enjoyed for my appetizer a crab-cake shaped disk which was supposed to be Crispy Pig Trotters, which came with a frissee salad, while my dining companions had a tripe dish and soft shell crab. For our main courses I choose what friend Samantha had recommended, a ravioli filled with soft egg yolk and ricotta cheese, while Johan enjoyed his favorite, sweetbreads, and Nati enjoyed a duck ragu pasta.

For wine, Johan suggested something from northern Italy, opening the page of the wine book to Barolo.... we ended up with an interesting choice, a 1996 Odderro Barolo which was very enjoyable. It was brickish in color, with an aroma of a well-aged but not over-the-hill wine. I could detect smoke, mushroom and a touch of red fruit in the nose, while on the palate, the wine was silky, savory, and quite easy to drink. We enjoyed our choice, a nice change from a younger wine.

The interesting thing about the wine service was that after they decanted the wine without us requesting it (great), they brought three Burgundy glasses (great) which each had a drop of the wine in it (???). I was stumped, and turned to the others and said "tres bizarre!"

I still couldn't figure it out after discussing with the others if they had ever seen this before. No one at the table had. I looked for the wine waiter for a bit, but he never returned to the table, so I asked our regular waiter about the practice. He answered, "We put a bit of the wine you ordered in the glass as a way to season the glass. It is not done much around here, but done often in Europe. It helps to absorb whatever aromas that are in the empty glass so that when you do get a pour, you are getting the aromas of the wine and not of the glass which may have impurities such as chlorine or whatever."

So, the three of us at the table having been to Europe, and two of us (excluding me) having lived some time in Europe, and one of us having been born in Europe, and one of us having lived in Italy for a year (the place where the Osteria might have learned this practice) all denied having ever seen it in Europe. Hmm. Perhaps it gives validity to a new and innovative practice if one states it is practised widely in Europe?

Perhaps when I sell wine I also use this tactic? ie. Yes, people do this often in Europe?

Perhaps I also have customers who roll their eyes or stare blankly when I tell them what happens in Europe? Perhaps they also might at times know better than me what is done and not done in Europe??

Food for thought. But overall, nice wine service, great evening, and fun was had by all.


David McDuff said...


You might want to check out a post I wrote on a related topic a while back: To Season or Not to Season?

I don't think simply putting a drop of wine in the bottom of the glass would accomplish anything but they do have the right idea, as seasoning is intended to remove any trace aromas from stemware. It's also a show. And yes, it is done in Europe, mostly in Italy from what I've seen (and heard). But it's far from ubiquitous.

Samantha Dugan said...


I'm so happy you got a chance to check out Osteria Mozza! I absolutely loved the meal I had there and have been meaning to get back....your post has inspired me to make that go sometime soon. Next you have to try the Pizza joint next door...the three cheese pizza with a pile of their salad on top...oh my god...almost perfect in its simplicty. So did you like the eggy, cheesey, ravioli? I thought it was lovely albeit quite rich.

That bit about the wine service left me scratching my head a bit. I don't remember them doing that when I was there not have I seen it done in France or Spain on my visits but I like the idea. As you know from the store, there are times when the cleaning solution leaves a strong smell in the glass. I often reach for a bottle from the tasting bar and pour a bit in my glass to kill the chemical aromas. I would be curious to hear if anyone else has seen this done in Europe though. Maybe in the three star restaurants but I have never seen it done....even while dining in the homes of some pretty amazing winemakers......I feel so not in the know now!

Just for the record I have never heard you say, "That is how it is done in_______" nor can I see you using it as a sales tool. Sounds too much like, "You wouldn't know this but..." just aint you girlie!

Glad everyone had fun and when you get a chance check out the Mozza Pizzeria!

Nancy Deprez said...


Thanks! I'll definitely check out your post. Great that there is info on this subject.


I did love the Egg Ravioli with the browned butter. Very rich but tasty, and the wine went well with.

I would go back also. The place is very fun and the service impeccable. Love those smashed/fried potatoes. Tried to replicate those at home last night but failed somewhat, even though they were tasty anyway. Will have to consult you on how to smush a boiled potato without actually breaking it into pieces.

Samantha Dugan said...

I love those potatoes!! I did not see them on the menu when I was there but do make them at home fairly often. The trick is to use smallish potatoes and boil them until they are just cooked through, (Keep checking by sticking a knife in them)let them cool so you can handle them, then put them in your hands and gently press your palms together to flatten them. It can be tricky and I have had them break apart on me too....still taste really good!

As a topping I like to chop some garlic, (very fine dice) cilantro or parsley, lemon zest, lemon juice and olive oil. Top those crispy fried taters with good!

Nancy Deprez said...

Ah.... I did not let them cool, perhaps that was the issue. I was smashing them and saying "Ow!!!"

Will try again next time...

JollyVino13 said...

So, I have never had that happen in a restaurant either, but all the sommeliers at VinItaly do it for you when you taste wine with them.

They of course don't put just a bit of wine in the bottom, but actually rinse the glass with a tiny bit of wine and what is left over is that little bit of wine in the bottom.

Actually, the "cool" sommeliers put a little wine in the glass and then roll the glass on their little decanting table near your table and make a show out of it. The Italian word is "avvinare" which means to "soak" although "avvinazzato" actually means "drunken" and you can also "risciaquare" or "rinse" your glass before you "avvinare" soak or season your glass with the next wine.

I assume the reason why you don't see it in most restaurants these days is that it take a dog's age to do all the glasses.

Lots of sommeliers there at Mozza, eh?

Nancy Deprez said...

Seems like it, Jolly Vino!

Thanks for the comment. :)